By Laura Groulx, MSW, RSW
When I think about the concept of body image, my mind associates this concept with women. At first, I wondered if this was the case because I’m a woman myself. It turns out, that all I had to do to validate my association was search “body image” in Google Images, because my screen was instantly filled with photos of women. Go ahead, give it a try! To me, this simple search speaks volumes. However, the odd image of a man did pop up. Notably, one particular photo of a man spoke to me: it’s an image of a man holding up a sign saying “It’s just as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie”. This seems so obvious. So true. So why the distortion?
Image source: https://www.sbs.com.au/guide/article/2017/06/13/comment-we-need-talk-about-male-body-image
After pondering this, my mind went to the media. Arguably, media plays a large role in the development and strengthening of social norms.
Two social norms are at play here.
Social norm part one is this: women, embrace your insecurities!
Grab that face mask, book your Botox appointment, sign up for that diet plan, get the fake nails, and spend whatever you can on the right name brands to drape on your body. This norm is loud and clear, and it doesn’t seem to elicit much of a reaction when women comply to this norm.
On the other hand, we have social norm part two: Men, suck it up. It doesn’t matter what shape you are, that your hair may be thinning, or whatever else you may dislike about your body. GET OVER IT, because if you don’t, and you cave to your insecurities (e.g. talking about it, seeking support), your masculinity is in question.
Picture Courtesy of Alex's Story: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/i-hid-my-mental-illness-after-i-was-told-to-man
What I’m about to say speaks from the heart, and likely speaks for many a man out there:
Men are expected to be the Ken dolls and Bruce Waynes, just like women are expected to be the Barbies and Victoria Secret models. While this may be true, the norm around how we handle this is so different.
It seems that women embracing their insecurities has led to more awareness of the negative body image issue amongst women. As a result, there have been supportive movements and campaigns (for instance, Dove Campaign for Real Beauty) which are doing wonderful things to promote body acceptance in women. However, with men remaining so quiet, likely due to the fear of being shamed for the vulnerability that may come with challenging social norm part two, they seem to go unrepresented.
At the end of the day, both men and women are human.
There are certainly differences, but we share the same human experience. Both genders eat, bleed, think, feel, and thrive off social connection and a sense of belonging.
To the men reading this, know that there is nothing weak about acknowledging an insecurity, whether about body image or anything else. In fact, this acknowledgment demonstrates courage and strength of character. And it helps when you too can be open and encouraging of other men that acknowledge this issue.
To the women, be kind to your men. Show acceptance. They may not say it, but they likely care about how they are being perceived in much the same way.
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